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Thursday, 1 November 2012
Page: 8813

Senator SMITH (Western Australia) (15:25): I also rise to take note of answers given this afternoon by Senator Wong with respect to questions asked by Senator Fifield. I would like to reflect on the very measured tone of my colleague Senator Fifield, who talked about his disappointment at the response that he received to quite legitimate questioning about how the National Disability Insurance Scheme would be funded. Instead we had a partisan barrage. I think we are all agreed that this issue needs to be elevated above party politics in the interests of all Australians but most particularly in the interests of those with a disability.

My Western Australian Labor colleague, Senator Bishop, made some interesting remarks about Federation. He pointed to the fact that there is one group of Australians who have been disadvantaged for the entire time of our Federation, and that is Australians with disabilities. I would like to add my concern, as a West Australian senator, that that disadvantage could be amplified under a national disability insurance scheme for West Australians who suffer a disability.

I would like to reflect on some of the attitudes of the West Australian government which, I think it is fair to say, are not necessarily aligned to those of the current federal government. The West Australian government's disability service system has evolved through 25 years of bipartisan reform and funding growth. That system is recognised nationally and internationally for its focus on individualised funding, on developing local relationships and for the support provided to people through the network of local area coordinators. That fact was recognised in 2011 in the Disability care and support report of the Productivity Commission and it recommended quite specifically that these features of the West Australian system must be adopted nationally through the National Disability Insurance Scheme. I think that those words are quite important for us to reflect on, particularly for those senators like myself and, might I add, Senator Bishop, who represent Western Australia.

The issue is very significant and absolutely deserves to be raised above the level of partisan politics. I would just like to reiterate a word of warning about the development of the scheme as we progress to, hopefully, not only the delivery of the legislation to the parliament but also a very clear funding commitment from this federal government about what it will do to fund in its entirety a national disability insurance scheme. That word of warning comes from the West Australian government. The West Australian government also considers that the National Disability Insurance Scheme should build on the existing disability system in Western Australia, including local area coordinators, individualised funding and a strong disability services sector. These elements will continue to ensure that people with disability currently accessing services and supports will be provided with an equal if not better level of care.

The Commonwealth government's proposal that a new national agency take over responsibility for the system risks disrupting the services and supports that people receive by reducing flexibility to their local needs, changing the way the service providers are funded and undermining established relationships. These are important and critical issues that I look forward to reflecting on and representing the views not just of the West Australian government but of West Australians with disability services when that legislation comes to the Senate. I think it is worth adding—and reflecting on the fact—that the coalition was and is committed to a bipartisan approach to the delivery of better disability services for all Australians. It is disappointing given the coalition's proposition that a joint committee of this parliament should oversee the development and the implementation of this once-in-a-century opportunity. We need to exercise great caution at the moment that these expectations are not being unfairly raised and that this does not perpetuate itself as a cruel hoax on people with disabilities in our country. It is my great hope that this once-in-a-lifetime reform will deliver for West Australians with disabilities a better funding arrangement and better opportunities for a greater quality of life than they currently receive. Let me repeat that: I am hoping that the National Disability Insurance Scheme will deliver for West Australians with disabilities a better standard of care services than they currently receive. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.